I had forgotten, when I first picked up Valley of Shields, just one much of a cliffhanger the first book had ended on. This second volume starts pretty much the same second the previous one ended, jumping straight into the action. As such, it was a very in medias res beginning, without any recapping. It took me a little while to remember everything that had been going on nine months previously when I read the first book. I suspect this is the kind of sequel that would be perfect to read straight after the first book. So if you haven't had the chance to pick up this series, now might be a good time (and Valley of Shields doesn't end on the same sort of cliffhanger).
Cast out from his homeland, Sendatsu has used his sword-fighting talents to survive in the foreign land of the Vales. With the assistance of Rhiannon – the first human to use magic in hundreds of years – Sendatsu has helped Huw and the Velsh defeat an invading army. Better still, Sendatsu now has the key to reclaim his children.
It will mean a return to Dokuzen – a city where deceit runs deep and Sendatsu expects an unwelcome reception. How will Sendatsu and his unlikely allies, Huw and Rhiannon, know who to trust when they can barely trust each other?
And when Dokuzen comes under fierce attack, Sendatsu’s fight to survive will need to be more desperate than ever. Especially when this attack reveals who the real enemy is …
Valley of Shields again follows Sendatsu, Huw and Rhiannon but this time a lot of the action takes place in Dokuzen, the Elfaren city. This brings a lot of different political struggles to the forefront and I think there was a bit more intrigue going on (those who know me know I'm a fan of intrigue) from all sides, including the main characters.
An interesting aspect which was present in the first book but is much more important in the second is the love triangle between Sendatsu, Asami and her husband, Gaibun. The thing that made it interesting for me is that it was seen predominantly from Sendtatsu's perspective (since he's the most central character), rather than from Asami's as is common, especially in YA (not that this is YA, of course). I also appreciated that while we saw the two men trying to undermine each other, we also got to see Asami being annoyed at being treated like a prize, which made me happy. And while everyone (especially the men) made fools of themselves, it struck me as a pretty realistic state of affairs. I am looking forward to seeing how the matter is resolved in the final volume.
As fans of Lay will have come to expect, battles and training for them are again central to this book. If you're the kind of reader who doesn't like graphic violence (I wouldn't call it at all gratuitous in this case), then I'm not sure this kind of fantasy novel (what I like to call BFF — Big Fat Fantasy) is for you. But for fantasy fans, I highly recommend Duncan Lay's books. I also strongly recommend starting with the first book in this series, Bridge of Swords.
I enjoyed Valley of Shields a great deal. After a long string of not BFF books, it was nice and comforting (yes, I may have issues on that front) to get back into a nice long fantasy novel. I look forward to February, when the concluding volume is scheduled for release.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Harper Voyager Australia
Series: Empire of Bones, book 2 of 3
Format read: ebook on iThings
Source: purchased from iTunes store